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Former coach and family revel in Steven Matz's success

Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom and Mets starting pitcher

Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom and Mets starting pitcher Steven Matz talk in the dugout during the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field on Sunday, June 28, 2015. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

With a rain delay and the continuation of a suspended game came an extra 31/2 hours of waiting. And with that came reminiscing. Everyone who knows Steven Matz has a story about him that they're eager to tell.

The 150 or so friends and family members who were jammed into Suite 221 at Citi Field on Sunday didn't spend much of the extra time before Matz's major-league debut talking about his brilliant left arm. They left that 2.19 ERA and those 94 strikeouts in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League to others in the ballpark to discuss.

This exclusive group of supporters would much rather dwell on Matz's character, an aspect they believe is as responsible as anything for his ascension to the highest level.

"I know he's mine," said his mother, Lori, "but he really is a great kid. He's deserving. Just like everyone else out there is. You don't get to this level without hard work and dedication."

Bert Moller, Steven's grandfather, added: "Whatever he does, he tries to do the best he can with it. That's the way he is. And he's so laid-back about it. You'd never know he has a talent like this. He actually calls me and says, 'Hey Grandpa, do you need any help with any work around the house?' He's just that kind of a kid."

After Matz's stellar all-around performance in the Mets' 7-2 win over the Reds -- he allowed two runs, five hits and three walks, struck out six in 72/3 innings and went 3-for-3 with four RBIs -- many were ready to crown the Stony Brook native the new king of New York, or at least the new king of Long Island. Yet you probably would unknowingly walk past him down the sidewalk, said Lou Petrucci, Matz's former baseball coach at Ward Melville. "He's unassuming," he said. "He doesn't walk around town with his Mets gear. He walks around like he's a normal guy. Because that's what he is. Doesn't take anything for granted."

Petrucci took the opportunity to flash back and share some laughs with Tony Nunziato, an assistant coach at Ward Melville, and his son, A.J. Nunziato, who was a shortstop for Ward Melville and is two years older than Matz. They recalled a game in 2009 in which Matz pitched against Patchogue-Medford's Marcus Stroman, currently with the Blue Jays.

"Stevie won that one, 1-0," Tony Nunziato said. "Great one to watch."

For this trio, the inner workings of Matz's game are apparent. They know why he's been so successful.

"The thing I think that separates him from a lot of people," A.J. Nunziato said, "is that baseball is a very mental sport. And his mental game is just as good, if not better, than anybody's. He stays focused on the process. A lot of people can have trouble with that. They'll come up against a mental block every now and then. That's really what's allowed him to thrive."

An ability to block out everything except for what's in front of him has remained one of his biggest skills, Petrucci said.

"That's why all those rumors and things about when they were bringing up Matz never bothered him. They didn't touch him," Petrucci said. "He just got better and better. Because when he's pitching, he's working on making himself the best player possible. Listening to everybody. Learning from everybody.

"He won the championship in A-ball, Savannah. In Double-A, pitched a no-hitter in front of everybody, in front of Sandy Alderson. And let me tell you, if the Mets get to the World Series, he's winning a game. He's fazed by only this: 60 feet, 6 inches, and everything in between. That's all he's working on. That's it."

That focus, coupled with a resilient work ethic, has allowed Matz to make the most of his talent.

"I don't think I've ever been more proud of anybody in my entire life," said Matz's sister, Jillian, 19. "Out of everybody, he deserves this the most. He's just worked so hard. Once you're on the inside and you see it, like you really see how much he sacrificed and how much he gave up and how much passion he's put into it . . . It's unreal to watch his dreams come true, and to have my whole family here to watch it."


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